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Service Dog vs. ESA vs. Therapy Dog Overview



This article was written based on USA guidelines for service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This is a BASIC overview and I encourage all of you to do your own research and contact us with any questions you may have!

A quick note. There is a LOT of mis-information out there unfortunately. Orvis.com, where I found the little picture clipped above, has written many articles, and unfortunately some of them are spreading mis-information about service dogs, ESA’s, and other information in general. Always double check the laws. If something doesn’t make sense, shoot us a message with your questions and we will walk you through it.

So what is a Service Dog really?

A service dog is a dog that has been trained to do specific tasks to assist a person with a disability. The dog is NOT a pet. It is a working animal. Pets can become service dogs with the right temperament and training, but once that vest is on, the dog needs to be on.

Under the ADA, trained service dogs must be allowed in all public places, including airplanes. There are no exceptions for TRAINED service dogs. If a service dog is acting unruly in public, then either it is a fake service dog, or it’s training has not been completed and therefore can be asked to leave the premises. Dogs can also be asked to leave if they are not secured by a leash. The exception to the leash law is when a tether will interfere with the dog’s work. These are very rare cases.

That sounds like my ESA. What’s the difference?

ESA’s were not trained to do specific tasks to help their handler. They are pets. ESA’s can help their person just by being a calming presence in their life. They don’t have the same rights that trained service dogs do. ESA’s are not allowed public access like service dogs are. That means no grocery stores, hotels unless pets are allowed, movie theatres or restaurants. Some airlines DO allow ESA’s. You will need to contact the specific airline you are planning to fly on for what that specific one does or does not allow.

ESA’s ARE protected under the ADA for housing rights. If you are a renter and your landlord does not allow pets, both ESA’s and service dogs are an exception.

Well, what about therapy dogs? They’re allowed in places pets are not, right? What about them?

Actually, under the ADA laws, therapy dogs have less rights than ESA’s do. If you see a therapy dog in a school or hospital, many times the handler has special permission from that entity to bring their trained therapy dog in for the mental wellbeing of the individuals there. Therapy dogs are trained to help EVERYONE whether it is by happily letting the people there pet them, play with them, or even just by being a comfortable presence. Therapy dogs are an amazing service everyday people can do with their pets to help others battle disease or even just raising day to day happiness for mental health in the workplace.

This was just a very BASIC overview to give you guys an idea of where to start. If you have any questions or are interested in a service dog for yourself or someone else, feel free to contact us with any questions you may have! Below I have dropped a couple of links to the ADA’s site for service animals so you can look up the exact laws for service dogs, ESA’s, and therapy dogs.

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